D: David Frankel. DP: Florian Ballaus. W: Vanessa Taylor. Starring: Meryl Streep/Tommy Lee Jones/Steve Carell/Jean Smart/Elizabeth Shue/Becky Ann Baker.
As the summer big releases reach their final push month some smaller movies start to trickle in. One of those is Hope Springs. A remarkable little movie about bridging the gap in a relationship and taking that necessary plunge with your partner to reach a place of renewal.
First time feature writer, Vanessa Taylor, who also spends her time writing for the HBO series Game of Thrones, delivers in this first endeavor. Her script maintains a nice pace with a focus on character rather than gimmicks and silly montages. Her core elements are Meryl Streep’s Kay, her husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), and their expensive marriage counselor Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). Taylor never pulls the focus from the couple and thankfully never wasted time building a back-story to Carell’s Dr. Feld. Rather he is present in their sessions and that is it.
Taylor’s script is given life and legs by its leads. Streep embraces Kay and allows her body to do a lot of the talking. Her Kay is fully fleshed out from her middle aged matching nightgowns to her painfully restrained laugh that breaks your heart. But let’s face it, we all knew Streep would be great here. It’s hard to ignore her onscreen, even when she’s playing someone who feels they’re ignored. You will even forgive her for the stupider moments in the film because she handles them with such grace and sparkle it seems silly not to.
Streep’s partner in pain is Jones’ Arnold whose briefcase and routine could easily be read as stately stereotypical. Thankfully Jones is as subtle as Streep here. His twitches and fits in sessions will have coupes and singles everywhere squirming in their seats. His Arnold does not want to be in counseling and makes it known. Yet the story, gracefully, remains balanced enough that it never seems to tell the audience whose side to be on. Rather Hope Springs roots its faith in the relaxed performance of Carell who attempts to shepherd his couple through the rockiest of conversations.
What ultimately irked me the most was the use of music in the film. For some reason the producing team thought that despite a great script and superb acting almost every scene in the first two acts of the film needed a Sara Barielles’ song blasting through the speakers. Not only is it jarring, but completely trivializes some wonderful subtle moments these two acting greats create. What might have been a marketing ploy to lighten the mood and make the film come across more as a romantic comedy actually nearly ruins the first half of Hope Springs. But go, tread lightly, though not as bleak as 2010’s Blue Valentine, Hope Springs still drags you through the jungle of sexual and emotional hiccups in a marriage.